Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot

written by Rabbi Reuven Travis

Like the other pilgrimage holidays (Pesach and Shavuot), the holiday we observe this week, Sukkot, has both ritual and agriculture aspects. While we are very familiar with the former (including things such as sitting in the sukkah, waving the lulav and etrog, and the hoshanah circuits we make during our morning davening), the latter aspect of the chag is made abundantly clear in Shmot (23:16), where the Torah refers to it as chag ha-asif, “the festival of the ingathering.”

Yet, in many ways, Sukkot is actually two holidays rolled into one. The Torah makes clear that chag ha-asif is a harvest festival, as it says: “At the end of the year when you gather in your labors out of the field,” (Shmot 23:16) and “...after you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress.” (Devarim 16:13) The theological import of the holiday is made equally clear in the Torah, which defines the chag as a festival of commemoration of the Exodus. “You shall dwell in sukkot seven days ... so that your generations shall know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Vayikra 23:42–43)

Herein lies a contradiction. Everywhere else the Torah says that while in the wilderness Bnei Yisrael dwelt in tents (see, for example, Shmot 16:16, 33:8, 10; BeMidbar 11:10, 16:27, 24:5; Devarim 1:27, 5:27). So did they live in sukkot or in tents? Sifra (the halakhic midrash on Vayikra) records a rabbinic debate on this very topic. (It is mentioned in the Talmud also, but there the protagonists are switched [Sukkot 11b].)

R. Eliezer says: They were real sukkot. R. Akiba says: The sukkot were the clouds of glory. (Sifra Emor 17:11 [103a–b])

R. Akiba’s argument for his belief was apparently quite convincing because his interpretation became accepted as the majority rabbinic interpretation and is found in the targums (the Aramaic translations of the Torah) and in many later writings. R. Akiba’s idea of sukkot as metaphorical shelters provided by God for the people’s protection most likely prevailed because he also argued that sukkot are not built in the desert; they are built in agricultural fields for the protection of the workers and their animals. They were constructed of the kind of materials one would expect to find in an agricultural setting — tree branches, wood, straw, etc. Such materials are not found in the desert. Furthermore, the Bible has ample descriptions of the uses of a sukkah as a metaphorical shelter. Consider these few examples:

And God will create over all Mount Zion ... a cloud ... [which] shall serve as a sukkah for shade from heat by day and for shelter and protection against storm and rain. (Isaiah 4:5–6)

He made darkness His screen; dark thunder-heads, dense clouds of the sky were His sukkah round about him. (Tehillim 18:11–12)

Can one, indeed, contemplate the expanse of clouds, the thunderings from His sukkah? (Job 36:29)

Except for that single reference from Vayikra cited above, the exodus narrative never mentions sukkot, but it is replete with references to clouds — the pillar of cloud that guided Bnei Yisrael in the desert; the cloud over Mt. Sinai; the cloud inside the Mishkan from which God speaks to Moses; the cloud above the tent of meeting where God resides — there are many references to these clouds in the last four books of the Torah. And where does the pillar of cloud first appear to the Israelites? In a place called Sukkot!

“And they journeyed from Sukkot and they camped at Ethom, in the edge of the wilderness and the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them in their way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give light to them....” (Shmot 13:20–21)

This begs the question. When did the custom of dwelling in sukkot as a matter of ritual law begin to be observed? Some argue that we can date this ritual to the period when the Jews returned to their homeland from the Babylonian exile. Upon their return, the Jews returned to Jerusalem, where they celebrated Sukkot by making and dwelling in sukkot. Nehemiah reported of this practice: “The Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua.” (8:17) Since the book of Joshua is silent on the matter of dwelling in sukkot, one could argue that this mitzvah had its origins during the return from exile.

There is one last point worth reflecting upon regarding the mitzvah of dwelling in sukkot. It is unique and stands out among all of the 613 mitzvot. The mitzvah simply states: “You shall dwell in sukkot seven days...” (Vayikra 23:42) This is a unique mitzvah because nothing more is required of a person other than being in a place. To fulfill the mitzvah, one simply enters the sukkah and remains there, living in the space as if it were one’s home. You need not do anything else. For the seven days of the holiday, one is totally surrounded by the mitzvah.

This concept of being totally surrounded by the mitzvah is an apt metaphor for our school. As Rabbi Leubitz has challenged us all to reimagine our school, those of us privileged to teach your children limudei kodesh are doing just that by daily seeking ways to install more kedusha, more holiness, into the lives of your children. We teach and model for them ways to fulfill mitzvot, from the seemingly most mundane (washing of hands before eating a meal) to the most challenging of properly honoring our fathers and mothers. (Talmud Yerushalmi, Peah I:1)

This week, our task might be a bit easier as we sit in our sukkot with our students, but it is also a time when we are extraordinarily mindful of the task you have entrusted us with. And we are just as grateful for the trust you show by sharing your children with us and allowing us to teach them.

Chag sameyach to all.

Rabbi Reuven Travis


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Megillat Kohelet

written by Ella Goldstein, who will become a Bat Mitzvah on 10/22


Moed tov. For my Bat Mitzvah, I chose to read Megillat Kohelet. Kohelet was written by King Shlomo, or Solomon, late in his life. He had become aware of the mistakes he made throughout his life and wrote about them, I think, to help people live meaningful lives. His first two chapters are particularly depressing. He describes how everything in the world meant nothing to him. Or, In 12 year old terms, his life was a fail. In פרק א פסוק ד it states:

דור הלך ודור בא והארץ לעולם עמדת “  "a generation comes and generation goes but the world keeps going on and on."

In פסוק ט he says for the first of many times  ואין כל חדש תחת השמש , there is nothing new under the sun.

In פרק ב,  Shlomo thinks that by buying more items, he will be happier - he discusses building houses, planting vineyards and orchards with all types of trees, and he owned more than all of his family in Jerusalem. פסוק י:  וכל אשר שאלו עיני לא אצלתי מהם לא מנעתי את לבי מכל שמחה “Whatever my eyes desired I did not deny them, I did not deprive myself of any kind of joy.”  but, in pasuk יא he concludes again that “all was futile … and there is no real profit under the sun.” Again, we realize that he describes his life as a fail.

In perek gimmel, however, I found him to be more optimistic. This is the chapter that the 1960s rock band, the Byrds, made famous with their song Turn, Turn Turn.  “everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the heaven:  a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to wreck, and a time to build ….” and so on.  I find this more optimistic because it shows that while there are bad things in life, there also are good things.  So as one goes through bad times, you know to think about the good that you had and the good that will be ahead.  

In the remaining perakim, Shlomo continues to consider how to find meaning in life.  He tries a lot of things, but in the end he says the way to find true meaning is to believe in (G-d) and to follow his commandments.  He concludes in perek yud bet, pasuk yud gimmel אֶת הָאֱלֹקים יְרָא וְאֶת מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי זֶה כָּל הָאָדָם

“Fear G-d and keep his commandments, because this applies to every person.”  

So, when I reached the end, I realized at least one reason why we read this book during this high holiday season - right after we pray for a happy, healthy and peaceful new year and for atonement for our sins --  it’s a reminder that to have a meaningful life we must follow God's commandments.

But, I also learned more as I learned Kohelet -

First, when reading Shlomo Hamelech complaining and complaining, I thought it’s easy to complain.  We can all easily complain If you have a bad teacher, or a bad referee, or big homework assignment. We could think, why is this all  happening to me?  But then , Kohelet teaches us that we need everything in moderation -- he was the richest person, with the most things a person could have, and he was not happy.  And in perek zayin, pasuk alef he says something I thought was interesting -  "טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן" - the most important thing isn’t the possessions or being famous, but rather to have a good name.  This pasuk really made me think - it’s not what you have, it’s who you are -- how you act, what you do and say that really matters.   

As I read this megillah with the many sad entries, I also thought how odd to read this book on sukkot.  After all,   on the holiday of sukkot we have a commandment to be happy -- shouldn’t we read something totally happy? Why have a reading where someone is struggling in life?  I think it is because it’s easy to be happy when all is good in the world.  When everything's going right, of course we are happy.  Like when AJA crushes another volleyball team and after, we all go out for ice cream. But, what Kohelet teaches is even when there are challenges - and in life we ALL have challenges - we still have a commandment to be happy.  There is a war in Syria now, there are hungry families, and people suffering from horrible diseases that doctors still cannot cure.  And, even with all this darkness, Kohelet is telling us there are positive times, and we need to find the good, we need to try and heal, we need to make peace in ways that we can and by doing that we will be happy.  

I have tried to find the good with my bat mitzvah learning.  First, I chose to challenge myself by learning to read the megillah.  I wanted to do something longer than the mincha torah reading and learn a new text.  I can now say that I truly did not understand quite how challenging the task was when I said this is what I wanted to do, but I am so happy that I stuck with it and learned as much as I did.  

Second,  I also chose to have a bat mitzvah project where I could help other children in some small way.  I have collected books for Page Turners Make Great Learners and I will be reading to kindergarten classes and distributing the books I’ve collected to their schools so that children who otherwise don’t have access to books can read.

So what I learned from this almost full year of learning the megillah, I think will stick with me forever.  First, I liked learning the trope - the musical notes - and found it amazing how much faster it was for me to learn a perek at the end of the year than when I started. I hope to be able to continue learning and reading megillah.  But also, I want to remember many of the messages of kohelet and Sukkot.  Life is not easy - there are good and bad things that happen. Some things we can control and try and make better, and some things we can’t control.  For those things, we just have to make the best of them. But to find more meaning and ultimately happiness, we follow the mitzvot.   

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

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Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah

written by: Shaun Regenbaum, AJA Upper School 


October 14, 2016
12 Tishrei 5777


There are a couple phrases we started saying these past couple weeks and will continue to say for some time. One of them is “Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah.” These are the things that will “revert the evil decree”. It is a confusing concept, but we will dissect it. This phrase in particular is extremely important for us to understand as it is the goal of the Chagim. We say a lot about how amazing H-shem is, about how merciful He is, about how omniscient He is, and how nothing is hidden from Him, but these praises all lead up to this phrase, this cry to H-shem. When looking from a purely literal point of view, they are quite shallow: “Repentance, Prayer, and Charity”. They are admirable, but these three actions seem oddly specific for getting ready for a new year, a better year.

In Pirkei Avot, the second Mishnah, we learn from a man named Shimon Hatzadik. He was the last member of the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, the men of the great assembly, a group of geniuses who led the Jewish people in the first century. They rejuvenated Judaism to thousands of assimilating Jews. They brought meaning to Jews who were swaying off the path of their ancestors. They were great people, and Shimon Hatzadik, perhaps the greatest of them all stated: “On three things the world stands: On Torah, On Avodah, and on Gemilut Chasadim.” They literally mean “On Torah, On Work, and on Acts of Kindness.” These three pillars established by Shimon Hatzadik strongly resemble the three end goals we mention in our Davening: “Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah.” When we compare these lists to each other, an amazing realization can occur.

Teshuvah when translated means returning. Returning to what? Well, as Shimon Hatzadik tells us, Torah. We are returning to the main goals of life, those that align themselves with Torah. When we learn Torah, we learn how to live our lives, we learn our core values, and we learn the amazing depth of our world. We must return to the fundamentals of Torah, to the way of thinking presented by Torah, to the purpose of life taught by Torah. That is the first goal for these upcoming weeks: returning to the Torah, the most important part of Judaism.

Tefillah can literally mean debating or petitioning for yourself or for another. Debate and petitions involve two sides. One side has a goal, a hope to leave with something valuable. The other side has the ability to provide. In our case we are asking G-d, our father and provider for something. But what is it we are asking for? What is our Tefillah for?

We are asking for work, which is a surprising thing to ask for. Who wants more work, more things to worry about? Avodah (work) involves putting forth effort to receive the product of the work. We are not simply asking for work, but for opportunities to accomplish goals in life, specifically goals based on the Torah. We are asking H-shem for purpose and a path to meaningful accomplishment in life. We are arguing that the upcoming year not be a futile one, but a year full of achievement and success - a year where we do not waste our time like we did last year.  Our right to Avodah changes us and creates personal meaning in our own lives. This is the second goal: to present our case to G-d that this upcoming year we deserve the right to learn, to understand, to achieve, to grow, and to succeed in Torah and in life.

Finally we have Tzedakah directly translated as righteousness or truth. This is a tough one to understand. The previous two aspects are personal. Teshuvah and Tefillah get us ready for the upcoming year with a strong Torah-based foundation, and a clear goal to achieve in the upcoming year, but righteousness involves more than just ourselves. A single man by himself in the world can never be righteous. Adam before Chava was not righteous, he only became righteous when someone else entered his life. The same applies for the idea of truth. If only one idea exists, can it be true? Well no, it is neither true nor false, it simply exists. Truth can only exist when we can compare it to alternatives. Tzedakah cannot exist by itself, it needs something or someone else. But why does Tzedakah need more than one person, compared to Torah and Teshuvah?

When we do Avodah we change ourselves, we grow and learn and all these wonderful things, we affect ourselves, but something else happens, too. We also have an outward impact. Tzedakah is the outward effect of Avodah. Shimon Hatzadik stated both Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim, acts of kindness, meaning that the personal effects of our actions are critical, but we must make sure to have a positive outward effect too. With Tzedakah we are hoping to create change in our surroundings, as well as in ourselves. We accomplish this through acts of kindness, through charity, through being a teacher and mentor. This is the third goal of the upcoming weeks and year, to be a positive influence on your environment, to have beneficial impact on the lives of others, to improve your society, and to achieve the status of a Tzadik.

These three things: Teshuva, Tefillah, and Tzedakah will remove all the negatives of the previous year, the evil decrees. If we promise to return to the fundamentals of Torah, to have clear purpose and work for our growth, and to have positive impact on the world around us this upcoming year, it will be the best yet. Shimon Hatzadik, someone who made impact on his surroundings, assures us that these commitments will provide a life full of success and meaning. So with that I wish you all a G’mar Chatima Tova, an assurance for good life in the coming year.





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Haazinu and Succos: Commanded to Be Happy

written by: Matthew Minsk, 8th Grader

October 14, 2016
12 Tishrei 5777


This week’s parsha is Parshat Haazinu. Except for the very end, the entire parsha is a song, one of the ten Songs that will be composed in the history of Creation. The ten songs include songs such as Az Yashir, the song at the splitting of the sea, the song of Channah when she has her child, Shmuel (which we read as the haftarah on Rosh Hashanah) and Shir Hashirim, Song of Songs, composed by King Solomon and one of the five megillot, which we read on Pesach.

Overall, all of these songs are happy and are in thanks to Hashem. However, Haazinu is not happy. Half of the song of Haazinu is tragic, a depiction of what will happen when the people don’t follow Hashem’s commands and are then sent into Exile. The first part of the Song tells of the amazing things Am Yisrael will benefit from in the land of Israel. But then the second part tells of how they will become corrupt, and how they will be exiled. This part begins with the phrase וישמן ישרון Yeshurun will become fat, which comes directly after a verse telling how the nation will be rich in food. It talks about the goodness of their food, but then it becomes bad, and they become fat.

When he was king, it is said Solomon collected a tremendous wealth, so much that it would tempt anyone to become greedy and jealous and turn away from G-d. He believed he wouldn’t be tempted because he was on such a high spiritual level. In fact, he was right. However, after his death, his sons couldn’t resist the temptations, which led to a civil war and a split of the Kingdoms of Judea and Israel. A couple hundred years later, this lack of unity led to Assyria dispersing the Ten Tribes and Babylon destroying the Beit HaMikdash, and other consequences foretold later in this parsha.

Next week is Succos, called Z’man Simchaseinu, the time of our happiness. But yet on Shabbas Chol HaMoed, we will read Koheles, which is written by Solomon and is just utter sadness and despair, saying there is no hope. The complete opposite of Z’man Simchaseinu. The Rabbis teach us we read Koheles on Succos so that we see that even in our happiness, we can’t be too happy. We are still in exile.

This does not mean we shouldn’t be happy, that we shouldn’t feast with the good things Hashem gave us. Because we should. Not even an hour after we read Koheles, in Mussaf, we still call Succos a time of happiness. We are still commanded to be happy, even while reading Koheles.

Last week, we had Tzom Gedaliah, the fast of Gedaliah. What is the purpose of being hungry on fast days? One purpose is to remind us all is not right, we are in exile, which is not where we need to be. We need to work for the Ultimate Redemption.

We bide our time, keeping our Jewish identity in schools such as AJA, and try to do mitzvot until Hashem decides the time is right. We work for that time, when we will have an opportunity to be in the Land of Israel and use what He gave us in the right way.

Then, maybe instead of having the futility in Koheles bring us down in our time of happiness, we can rejoice even more, and read the tenth song. This is the song that hasn’t been written yet, the song of the exiled being redeemed, the Song of the Mashiach.

Until then, Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!





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The Concrete Lane - Rebecca Lewyn


The Concrete Lane

Rebecca Lewyn, Grade 8 - Atlanta Jewish Academy


My footsteps mark the concrete lane
Whose scarred faces lay agape
Seasons of ruined fronds will shame
No thing will ever stay the same

Blankets ice the concrete lane
Whose cold frame standstill agleam
Eyes the beauty of recurring rain
Nothing ever stays the same

Shrubs wrap the concrete lane
Whose wounds fill with fowl pests
Feels the writhing in his mane
Nothing ever can stay the same

But somewhere along the concrete lane
My footsteps come across a body asleep
I gaze at its corpse and my heart fills with pain
Nothing could ever stay the same


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What Happened to Peace? Jolie Abadi

What Happened to Peace?  

Jolie Abadi, Grade 8 - Atlanta Jewish Academy

The windy morning, as quiet as can be,

Yet something took a turn inside of me.

A soaring surrender I wish I would see.

The ground shook,

And I sunk like an anchor,

On my trip to the bottom of the ocean.

My vision was blurred as I searched for an answer.

The darkness consumes us, where should we look?

A second ringing in my ears.

A second in time to fear and react.

The cries for help bring never ending tears.

My mind went blank, and my body went stun.

Do I look back or do I run?

Why must this happen here?

On the round Earth where I yearn for peace,

Will we ever get off this carousel of hostility?

Where the children are sobbing instead of loving,

On this panicked ride where I yearn for release.

I can feel the growing heat,

No matter the depths of defeat,

The fire within, for the country I love, will never be beat.

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Parashat Yayelech: Walking in the Ways of Hashem

written by: Debbie Bornstein, Director of Judaic Studies EC-8

October 7, 2016
5 Tishrei 5777

וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ משֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֛ר אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:

And Moshe went, and he spoke the following words to all Israel.

Where did Moshe go?

Ramban explains that Moshe went to each shevet’s (tribe's) camp, as a sign of kavod (honor/respect), asking their permission before he left them for the last time.

However, Kli Yakar explores this expression on a deeper level, comparing this use of ‘vayelech’ with the other times that it is used in our parsha. The shoresh ‘halach’ appears three times in Vayelech. The first is here, ‘וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ משֶׁ֑ה’ (Devarim 31:6) when Moshe goes to talk to Bnei Yisrael, the second is in relation to Yehoshua’s appointment as Moshe’s successor – וַֽה' ה֣וּא הַֽהֹלֵ֣ךְ לְפָנֶ֗יךָ ה֚וּא יִֽהְיֶ֣ה עִמָּ֔ךְ (Devarim 31:8) and the third being where Bnei Yisrael are told that Hashem will guide them - “כִּ֣י ה' אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ ה֚וּא הַֽהֹלֵ֣ךְ עִמָּ֔ךְ לֹ֥א יַרְפְּךָ֖ וְלֹ֥א יַֽעַזְבֶֽךָּ” (Devarim 31:6).

The use of the shoresh ‘הלך’ has different connotations in these three instances. When used regarding Bnei Yisrael, Hashem is portrayed as walking with the people. In relation to Yehoshua, Hashem walks before him (ie. Yehoshua follows Hashem). Concerning Moshe, he simply ‘walks’ and is not accompanied.

From this comparison, we see that the verb ‘halach’ implies the status of one’s relationship with Hashem. The Kli Yakar illustrates this further with use of a mashal. Moshe, on the highest level, is like the sun – he radiates independently and ‘vayelech’ – he walks on his own and does not need to be accompanied. Yehoshua is compared to the moon, who gives light only as a reflection of the sun, but still lights up the night sky. Contrastingly, Bnei Yisrael need full guidance – Hashem walks with them, and they are like the stars, which light up the sky, but in a scattered and disjointed fashion. Together, all three types of luminaries serve to provide the earth with light throughout time.

Throughout the Torah we see many times that the verb, halach, is used as a reference to one's relationship with Hashem. This idea stems from a passuk in Parashat Eikev: מָה ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ:...לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל-דְּרָכָיו...

What does Hashem want from us? To walk in His ways.

The ability to walk is uniquely human. Yechezkel prophesies about the angels that ‘Ragleihem regel yeshara’ (Yechezkel 1:7)– ‘their leg is a straight foot’ – they cannot move from where they are. Man, conversely, has two legs and thus has the ability to move and change, progress and grow.

We are now in the days in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur , where we particularly want to make use of this special ability to change and do Teshuva. As it is written about the shofar at Matan Torah ‘וַיְהִי קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר, הוֹלֵךְ וְחָזֵק מְאֹד (Shemot 19:19)– the sound of the shofar went and became stronger’, we also want to take advantage of our ability and become stronger as individuals and as a nation.

G'mar Chatima Tova!





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